Fr. James Lloyd, 97, is the oldest-living Paulist Father. Fr. Lloyd hosted a television program called Inquiry that aired Sunday mornings from 1958 to 1973 on WNBC in New York. This month is the 70th anniversary of his ordination. He continues to be an active priest hearing confessions, writing for the Paulist Fathers website and, as a psychologist, providing pro-bono counseling services. Fr. Lloyd spoke with Catholic Digest.
Q: When did you join the Paulist Fathers?
A: I joined the Paulists in August 1942. I was ordained in May of 1948, so I have been a priest for 70 years as of May 2018.
Q: Talk about your early life.
My early life was Vaudeville with my parents and sister. We played the circuits, going from town to town, perfecting the art with the same material. We played the Borscht circuit in the summers, at the Jewish Alps in the Catskills, and at Jewish hotels. Before elementary school, my recollection is that my sister and I did a comic rendition of an Argentinian tango following our parents who did the serious one. It always cracked up the house. We lived in hotels and used the same material every place we went.
There was no competition from TV, movies, or even radio. They hardly existed. When we retired to go to school, we lived with my grandmother in New York City while our parents roamed the country. It was usual practice in those days for show people. In summers in the Borscht circuit, we were the social staff at whatever hotel we worked. Six nights a week we were required to present for the guests to keep them happy. We did slapstick, Shakespeare, bingo, drama, poetry night, dancing. I hated it and would hide under the bed sometimes to try to avoid performing.
My Dad would come after me and remind me that “we work for what we get,” and that “the show must go on.” I learned to do the job no matter how I felt. It was very useful later as a priest when I had my share of interpersonal difficulties dealing with unpleasant situations.
Q: What drew you to becoming a Paulist Father?
A: My interest in the priesthood came only after I was an undergrad in college. I was struggling to choose between the military, theatre, and medicine. I knew of the Paulists and I was fascinated by the ideas of Isaac Hecker and his “impossible” dream of converting all of America to the Catholic faith. It was so different from today where the accent is more on the ecumenical issue.
Q: Can you tell us about your novitiate year?
A: My novitiate year was a year and a day and difficult. The novice master believed that men of God are formed by “starving them” and working them until they dropped at night tired and hungry. But no one got sick and of the original 16, 13 were ordained priests. We were isolated. We saw no one. We rarely left Mount Paul on top of which was our Novitiate. This piece of history is unrecognizable to contemporary Paulists. We had a real boot camp. But who knows which way is superior?
Q: What was Inquiry?
A: Inquiry was an interview show on WNBC-TV where, for 15 years, I interviewed people on all levels about how God enters into their lives and if God matters. Some of my interviews included Malcolm Muggeridge, Mother Teresa, Jackie Gleason, Jim Farley, Elie Wiesel, Norman Mailer, Florence Henderson, Hugh Carey, governors, senators, even Al Capp of Li’l Abner, and Mel Allen. There are so many I cannot recall them all. I loved it. But I ran out of gas after 15 years and went into education when I became department head at Iona College for the graduate division of counseling. I held that job for 20 years and loved it, too.
Q: What services do you continue to provide as a Paulist Father?
A: My present life is constricted due to my age, but I keep busy — the phone keeps ringing off the hook. I am a Ph.D. licensed psychologist. I have no fee for my services and people who are anxious, sad, afraid, lonely, confused, guilty, angry, or bereaved can look me up. I also do marriage counseling. I even supervise the work of psychiatrists and psychologists. I also run a chapter of Courage with a weekly meeting and individual sessions with members as needed. I am also the local weekly confessor for the Sisters of Life.
Q: Why do you continue to be such an active priest?
A: It just comes naturally to me to be busy and to like it. I like interaction with people who are not only nice but also interesting. It is a great feeling to be useful to others under God, to believe that God is pleased when we use his gifts for his people. Life is more fun when we are busy.